Invest in young children now

Pre-K programs help parents and build workforce of future

Four years ago, after 20 years of a corporate career that I absolutely loved, I hung up my business suit and pursued a very different calling.

It began when my husband Phil and I started looking for a preschool for our children. We visited programs , talked to preschool teachers, and tried to imagine our kids sitting at tiny tables, making friends and climbing on outdoor play structures.

We started to see how complex – and at times heartbreaking – the quest for finding a quality preschool can be. I asked our preschool director if she ever had to turn children

away because their parents couldn’t afford to pay for it. Sure, she told me, every year for the last 28 years. I asked if there were children this year who couldn’t afford it. She said there were five.

Of course I couldn’t sleep at night knowing this, so I wrote a check for those five children to go to preschool. Phil already knew the answer, but he still asked if I intended to keep doing this. Probably, I said.

Phil suggested that we go big, and we created Taly Foundation. We raise funds. We give preschool scholarships for children. We help preschool teachers pursue their early

education degrees. We talk with parents about the importance of things like nutrition, healthy brain development, and being a strong advocate for their children in school. And

last year, we provided a grant to Somerville Public Schools to fund a joint effort by district and private educators to craft a curriculum aimed at preparing children to enter the public schools.

I’m telling this story for one reason: There’s a crisis in early education. Many of our fellow business people, parents, and community members are as unaware of it as we were four

years ago. Too many children don’t get to go to high-quality pre-K programs, and they end up not being ready for kindergarten. They start behind and they stay behind. This is not ok.

Fortunately it can be fixed.

The public investment being made in early childhood education in Massachusetts and many other areas is minimal. We have always known Massachusetts as a powerhouse in education.

Not so in early education. Massachusetts ranks 34th in the country in state preschool access and 38th in pre-K resources per child enrolled – this despite recent increases in the

state budget. This makes no sense for children, families, educators, businesses, or communities because this is a social issue that could and should be solved!

Business leaders know this. They’re taking action and calling for allies. One example is the recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, “Workforce of Today,

Workforce of Tomorrow: The Business Case for High-Quality Child Care,” that frames child care as a solution to workforce shortages, pointing out that high-quality child care helps

today’s parents go to work – and helps today’s children become tomorrow’s workers.

The report lists 10 ways that business leaders can take action – and we’re calling on our friends, family, colleagues, fellow social entrepreneurs, and early education

advocates to take action right now, shoulder-to-shoulder with us. Philanthropy is one approach and is critical. Fellow business leaders can also form coalitions, create policy

statements, reach out to elected officials, and work with us to develop local strategies to help more families access great programs. It’s fun and rewarding to visit pre-K programs.

In fact, seeing these children learning, thriving, sharing, making friends, playing, and effectively communicating is the fuel we need to continue with this incredibly important work.

The bottom line, of course, is that everyone can do something – and the reward promises to be huge. Children in high-quality programs are prepped for success. They are more

likely to graduate from high school – and that’s a crucial step toward going to college, launching a career, building secure families, and becoming productive members of society.

Taly is completing a two-year pilot program of providing full-day, year-round quality preschool for children. The children’s parents have improved their financial situation by returning to school and work, and are now paying more than half of the financial cost of the preschool tuition. Their children will be ready for kindergarten! This is such tremendous progress in a very short period of time with regard to economic development, community revitalization, and changing the trajectory of a child’s life because they are ready for school and their family is stronger.

Meet the Author

Jill Dixon

President and co-founder, Taly Foundation, Framingham
Please join us. Investing wisely in young children now is the best way to ensure that they grow up to create a world that amazes us and makes us proud. And when that happens – because it will – we all win. 

Jill Dixon is the president and co-founder of the Framingham-based Taly Foundation, which provides access to and improves the quality of early childhood education.